Earlier this month, we caught up with Emma Beresford, Founder of the Parental Engagement Network, to talk about her work at PEN and her views on what good parental engagement should look like.
Tell us a bit why did you set up the Parental Engagement Network.
“I was inspired to set out on my own and establish the Parental Engagement Network (PEN) after seeing the profound effects effective parental engagement could have on students’ outcomes. I set up PEN with the philosophy that schools needed a network that allowed and encouraged them to be able to share good practice, make the most of practical, local knowledge and motivate staff to do more in terms of parental engagement.”
What does PEN do?
“PEN works in a number of ways, both with member and non-member schools. Our regular network meetings provide the forum for sharing good practice and resources and opportunities for staff to connect with each other.
We recently successfully bid for funding and are running two new projects involving over 60 schools. One project, a research project supported by Oxford University and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Sutton Trust, is looking at how schools can successfully engage disadvantaged parents at the transition into primary school (at nursery or reception) – and the other is focused on engaging parents on the transition to secondary school, funded by Awards for All – The Moving Up Project.”
What challenges have there been in your career in parental engagement?
“I think that one of the biggest challenges in the field of parental engagement is that isn’t very well promoted by the DfE or the Ofsted framework; this means that is that it is rarely a top priority for schools. However, trends in education are relatively cyclical, so hopefully parental engagement will be back in the spotlight soon.”
Do you think there are any silver bullets out there for parental engagement?
“In my opinion, the best way to implement something well is to take a whole school approach. All staff’s roles should feed into the wider parental engagement agenda, making sure that all staff have buy in. Outstanding practice and results are driven by teams of committed and skilled staff who are really aware of and sensitive to parents’ needs.”
Do you have any top tips for schools when it comes to engaging their parent community?
“First impressions count – setting up good relationships early on is vital. Nothing beats personal contact, building relationships and clear, very accessible, regular communication. Using apps and other technology to reach parents on smart phones is vital. Parents need to feel like partners in their child’s education from the outset.”
Finally, what does the future hold for you and PEN?
“Our plans are to continue providing high quality training and support for schools to improve their parental engagement practice – we’ve got a busy Spring programme of events. We’re really excited to start Phases 3 and 4 of the Esmée Fairbairn Project, and we’re currently looking for more schools to take part, receive free support and be part of this high profile research project.
We will also be publishing a number of successful practical resources this year such as 12 Tip sheets for parents on topics from toilet training, to talking to your child, mark making or screen time.”
You can find out more about Emma’s work at PEN by visiting www.penetwork.co.uk.